Debate of the Month -- The Trouble with Homework

Increasingly, students and their parents are being told that homework must take precedence over music lessons, religious education and family and community activities. As the homework load increases (and studies show it is increasing), these family priorities are neglected. Yet belief in the value of homework is so firmly entrenched that most families accept the sacrifice necessary for their children to complete this nightly ritual.

Time spent on homework has increased significantly for six- to eight-year-olds, for example, according to a study released by the University of Michigan, which compared children's schedules in 1981 and 1997. Yet other studies conclude that there is no link between the amount of time spent studying and grades or test scores. And some experts suggest that homework at the elementary level may even be counterproductive. They believe that much of the mindless work of homework is simply not useful. In contrast, more complex homework seen at higher grade levels often demands supervision by trained educators -- not by parents, who may be limited in their ability to help their children complete assignments, which can lead to confusion and stress between parent and child. Teachers, often overburdened themselves, may assign as homework whatever is left unfinished at the end of the school day. Homework of this sort transfers the responsibility of education from the school to the family.

In fact, perhaps the greatest drawback of homework for many parents is the strain it places on family life. We all know that when a child is struggling to complete homework, the tension that results can affect all members of the family. Parents have been led to believe that homework is a sign of good teaching, or that when their children spend long hours hitting the books at home, they are "being prepared for the real world." Consequently, we as parents may be caught in a state of cognitive dissonance, asking for something that is fundamentally at odds with our own interests.

 

Some parents think that without lengthy homework, children will simply spend more time in front of the television. Certainly, increased TV time will be a possibility for some, but in our eyes, the amount of television watched has many causes. One factor is fatigue itself. But how many well-educated and serious adults simply "veg out" in front of the TV when they are tired? For children, deciding whether to watch TV or engage in other pursuits will often depend on the available alternatives. When children are well rested and there is a range of recreational activities available to them -- playing with other kids, singing or doing art projects -- kids will gravitate toward such activities. But a child's workload is surely one of the greatest limits to such opportunities.

Do you agree with the authors? Is it time for the end of homework? Share your opinion now.

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